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Economy

Japan bolsters human rights safeguards in textiles over Xinjiang

Companies to check supply chains for abusive labor practices and poor pay

A Uniqlo store in Beijing: Japan's apparel industry faces heightened exposure to fallout from human rights violations in the supply chain.   © AP

TOKYO -- The Japanese textile industry will work with the government to screen for forced labor and other human rights abuses in the supply chain amid a growing scrutiny of sourcing.

In a report due out Monday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will call on the textile industry to craft guidelines to root out human rights violations and to strengthen measures to address environmental issues. The industry will be asked to establish a disclosure framework for human rights due diligence.

Heightened awareness of human rights issues, such as the allegations of forced labor in cotton production in China's Xinjiang region, has increased the potential exposure of Japanese companies to boycotts in the West and an exodus by overseas investors. This marks the first government report addressing a specific industry's sustainability, according to the ministry.

The Japan Textile Federation will coordinate with the International Labor Organization to draft the guidelines by next year. They are expected to include provisions for assessing potential human rights violations relating to fair work hours and wages, as well as the presence of child labor. Companies would use the guidelines in monitoring suppliers.

The federation will look to the example set by the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association, which issued similar guidelines last year.

The United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have outlined frameworks for companies to monitor supply chains for human rights abuses. In June, the Group of Seven wealthy nations expressed concern about forced labor in the garment industry -- a veiled reference to the labor of the Uyghur Muslim minority allegedly used in producing cotton in Xinjiang.

Western apparel companies have taken stands against the use of Xinjiang cotton as well.

U.S. customs authorities blocked imports of Uniqlo shirts this year, on suspicion that they were produced with forced labor in Xinjiang. French prosecutors have launched an investigation of four companies, including Uniqlo parent Fast Retailing, in connection with Uyghur labor.

China is the second-biggest cotton producer in the world, with the Xinjiang region accounting for more than 80% of the country's output. Although valued for being inexpensive and high quality, international buyers have increasingly shied away amid the labor allegations.

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